The veteran actor, who turns 80 on April 22, last appeared in 2010’s How Do You Know. He looked and sounded out of sorts in that rom-com vehicle for Reese Witherspoon, which was directed by James L. Brooks. It was reported in September 2013 that Nicholson had quit acting owing to memory loss, though he immediately denied retiring in an interview with the British tabloid The Sun.
The retirement rumor resurfaced last month. “I think he has basically retired,” Nicholson’s long-time friend Peter Fonda told the New York Post’s Page Six at the BAFTA Awards Tea Party in Los Angeles. Nicholson and Fonda co-starred in Easy Rider (pictured top) 48 years ago.
However, Variety reported yesterday that Nicholson, a fan of German-Austrian comedy-drama movie Toni Erdmann, had brought the idea of an American version to Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, which quickly secured the remake rights. Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann‘s writer-director, will be an executive producer on the film. Paramount has yet to assign a writer and director.
Having played prankster extraordinaire Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Joker in The Batman, Nicholson will portray a player of comparatively mild practical jokes in the Toni Erdmann remake.
Ade’s movie, a front-runner for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, is about a divorced music teacher, Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), who travels to Bucharest, where his estranged daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) is toiling as a corporate consultant on an outsourcing project in the Romanian oil industry.
An affable bear of a man, Winfried dons an unkempt wig and ill-fitting joke teeth and, as his alter ego Toni Erdmann, repeatedly pesters Ines at her workplace. Born of paternal love, his campaign to embarrass her in front of her boss and colleagues is intended to remind her that there’s more to life than soulless corporate ladder-climbing. Winfried also registers disgust at the callous nature of Ines’ outsourcing task, a product of globalization. The father’s japes gradually work their magic on the daughter.
Because Toni Erdmann has the quality of a tightly written and thematically focused stage play, it doesn’t sag during its two hours and 42 minutes. The Hollywood version will inevitably be shorter—by an hour, Ade has suggested. If it turns out to be Nicholson’s swan song, it will hopefully be less maudlin that City of Angels, Brad Silberling’s L.A. remake of Wim Wenders’ Berlin masterpiece Wings of Desire (1987). Not that City of Angels’ worldwide gross of $198.6 million was anything for Warner Bros. to cry about.
Culture Trip’s in-depth interview with the “original” Toni Erdmann team of Ade, Hüller, and Simonischek can be read here.